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State’s WWII memorial on Capitol campus restored

Today’s rededication a month behind plan

The images of soldiers consist of the names of service members killed in WWII.  (Jim Camden)
The images of soldiers consist of the names of service members killed in WWII. (Jim Camden)

OLYMPIA – The “ghosts” of World War II have returned to the Capitol campus while there are still some veterans of that conflict left to appreciate them.

On the 69th anniversary of the day the United States was pulled into that war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Washington departments of Veterans Affairs and General Administration will rededicate the state’s World War II Memorial, which features etched images of servicemen and families on the home front.

Those life-sized images were designed by Olympia sculptor Simon Kogan to be seen as ghostly figures from the street or across the campus and draw people close enough to the memorial’s five bronze blades to see that they are formed by some 6,000 names of state residents killed in the war.

The ghosts were clearly visible when the monument was dedicated on Memorial Day 1999, but over the next decade they nearly faded away from the weather. In addition, the more than 3,000 tiles with names and messages from project donors began to crumble from poor drainage on the site. Some other features were removed by vandals.

One of the newest, and most frequently visited, memorials on the Capitol campus was starting to look shabby. And the state was hearing about it.

“It’s beyond personal to them,” Kogan said recently about World War II veterans. More than 11 years after the memorial was finished, he still gets letters and e-mails from people relating their story or that of a relative.

It’s personal to Kogan, too. A Russian immigrant of Jewish descent, he had family members who died in the war and others killed by the Nazis.

The memorial is a collage of images. Running toward the bronze blades is a stream of wheat stalks, another representation of Washington lives lost in war. One large rock is carved for each year the United States was in the war, mentioning key battles or turning points, starting with Dec. 7, 1941, and Pearl Harbor.

The state set aside $258,000 last year to restore all the war memorials on the campus, and much of it went to the World War II memorial. The drainage was fixed to draw away water rather than letting it pool on the site. The granite tiles were replaced with paving stones that were re-etched with the original names and messages.

And the patina on the 14-foot bronze blades was restored to clearly bring out the ghostly shapes formed by the names.

The state originally hoped to have the memorial restored in time for Veterans Day. But the work was still under way in early November, and the rededication was shifted to Pearl Harbor Day. It will start at 10:30 a.m., a time when 69 years earlier bombs were falling and ships in the harbor were ablaze from the surprise attack.

December weather isn’t always best for outside ceremonies in Olympia, but with World War II veterans in their 80s and 90s, the state didn’t want to wait for next spring or summer, Heidi Audette of state Veterans Affairs said. “We thought it was important to go ahead with the rededication,” she said.

The department put out the word to American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts around the state. At least one Pearl Harbor survivor is expected to attend, along with other World War II veterans and some “Rosie the Riveter” civilian defense workers.

Kogan, who oversaw the restoration of the blades, said patina is a tricky thing with bronze, but the chemical reactions inside the metal can be controlled even in the Puget Sound region’s wet weather.

“If you let it go, it will do whatever it wants,” he said. “With the proper maintenance, this will never happen again.”

The state has a new program for the memorial that includes twice-yearly maintenance of the bronze. If it follows that, Kogan said, the ghosts of World War II and the other features of the memorial will be around long after the Greatest Generation passes.

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